Most shocking that some 30 months after efforts to restore confidence in the judiciary, there are still “a few black sheep” among the judges
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): It is most shocking that some 30 months after efforts to restore confidence in the judiciary, there are still “a few black sheep” among the judges.
In December 2000, when Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah was appointed the new Chief Justice of the Federal Court, he pledged that his priority was to restore public and international confidence in the judiciary.
The country has now a new Chief Justice, Tan Sri Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim who said in Seremban yesterday that he needed time to monitor the behaviour of judges before initiating action to reprimand those “misbehaving” in office as he had just taken over for one-and-a-half months. He said he was quite happy that the majority of the judges were well-behaved though he acknowledged that there might be “a few black sheep” in the judiciary.
Even one “black sheep” in the judiciary is one too many, as how could there be any public confidence in the system of justice if Malaysians have to be subject to the law of the lottery as to whether they would be appearing before one of the “few black sheep” among the judges to suffer erratic or selective “justice”?
Something is clearly still very wrong with the system of justice in Malaysia when the New Straits Times could carry the following headline in its report on Ahmad Fairuz’s comments in Seremban yesterday “Follow unwritten code, judges told”.
The headline is a most powerful but sad and even disheartening indictment of the nine-year failure of the Judges’ Code of Ethics 1994 to establish standards for ethical conduct of judges and enhance public confidence in an independent, fair and competent judiciary to deliver justice to all Malaysians, when the new Chief Justice has to appeal to the unwritten judicial code before the 1994 Code of Ethics to remind judges how they should behave and conduct themselves.
The Malaysian judiciary is moving backwards instead of forwards, when all the unwritten rules and conventions of the do’s and don’s of judicial conduct were supposed to have been codified in the 1994 Judges’ Code of Ethics.
The chief wrecker of the 1994 Judges’ Code of Ethics was none other than its author, the then Chief Justice, Tun Eusoff Chin, who violated and discredited the Code of Ethics by his own judicial misconduct and impropriety, to the extent that he left the high judicial office in disgrace.
Although credit must be given to Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah for stopping the rot in the system of justice in his 27-month tenure as Chief Justice, he must be faulted for failing to put in place structural judicial reforms, without which there could be no full restoration of public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary after over a decade-long crisis of the judiciary – and the failure to overhaul the Judges’ Code of Ethics and reform the system of appointment of judges are among his failures.
Ahmad Fairuz has welcomed opinions from all parties on the Judges’ Code of Ethics.
As the restoration of public confidence in the judiciary is not merely the concern of the Chief Justice or the judiciary, but the aspiration of all Malaysians, the entire Malaysian people and civil society should be involved in the urgent task to restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary, including the re-casting of the Judges’ Code of Ethics 1994.
There should be a nation-wide debate as to why the Judges’ Code of Ethics had failed in the past nine years to enhance public confidence in the independence, fairness and competence of the system of justice in Malaysia – divided into the two Eusoff Chin and Mohamed Dzaiddin eras - and how it could be revamped.
In keeping with the principle of public accountability of the judiciary, Malaysians should be told as to how the Code of Ethics had worked or failed to work in the past nine years, how many complaints had been received each year under the Code of Ethics, the number of judges who had been investigated and the outcome of such investigations.
The recasting of the Judges’ Code of Ethics must deal with its three major defects:
The Judges’ Code of Ethics should be recast to specifically provide that "A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities" as is to be found in the Canons of Judicial Conduct of other judicial systems, and whose breach would trigger a judicial investigation.
Malaysia should take a leaf from the Canadian experience to uphold judicial accountability and introduce legislation to set up a Judicial Council to receive and investigate complaints that judges have violated the Judges’ Code of Ethics.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman